Amanda Austin

The Improvised Horror Movie

The American horror movie. What cinematic legacy can claim special effects mastery, emotional poignancy, and raw camp in the same breath? Scary movies have done so much good for cinema that it’s sickening. And now that we’re in the season (oh goodness HALLOWEEN I’m excited are you excited I love Halloween like no lie it’s my favorite holiday and I’ve been planning my costume for MONTHS) – Ahem. Sorry about that. As I was saying, now that we’re in season – eeek – the Dallas Comedy House (DCH) has started a month-long series of holiday-appropriate shows. As is tradition, it opened the first weekend of October with a premier of the Improvised Horror Movie. Though the show stands as a tribute to the horror genre, it also exists in memorial to Del Close, creator of the format, and Jason Chin, former director at iO Chicago who perfected the show. DCH runs the Improvised Horror Movie through the month of October as a dedication to their work. Improvised Horror MovieJust like its parent genre, the Improvised Horror Movie takes a couple different forms – forms, mind you, not scripts, because then it wouldn’t be improv, duh. Each form spins off of a particular type of horror movie. The version I had the pleasure of viewing was based off of one of my favorites: the "Slasher," wherein innocent, dumb kids fall prey to a psycho killing machine. Now that’s what I call comedy! Hooray!

The way the shindig worked in practice seemed pretty simple: At the top of the show, the audience assigned each cast member a role, all inspired by classic horror tropes. There’s a jock, a nerd, a goth, a stoner, a popular chick, and the surviving girl who will, in the end, determine who the killer is. (Spoiler alert, most of the archetypical characters die in a spectacularly funny fashion.)

Even though the roles are pre-determined and assigned at the beginning of the show, this doesn’t make things easier for the players. If anything, this is crazy hard. “Here’s a point of view, now understand it, adopt it as your own, and think up stuff to say from that point of view on the fly in front of strangers. Oh, and by the end of the show most of you have to have died and you have to be funny in the meantime.” Like, what even!?! That’s hard enough for me to do on a good day.

“Emily, you’re dumb. Those roles are pretty much stereotypes, and aren’t those at the antithesis of what good character work should be?”

Um, first, how dare you, I’m hella smart. Second, no. Just because the role’s been given to you, there’s still tons of flexibility as to what constitutes that role. Sporty jocks don’t have to be bullies, and the brainiac doesn't have to be socially awkward. For instance, the stoner in the last show (played by David Allison) was far away from being dumb and slow – instead, he was an energetic conspiracy theorist who suspected who the murderer was the whole time. (He felt the perpetrator was George W. Bush, but whether he was right or not is hardly the point here.) The popular girl (played by Maggie Rieth Austin) was ditzy, peppy, and fun – not a sexualized antithesis to the surviving girl the character is usually reduced to. Thinking with that kind of originality takes skill and quick thinking that isn’t often matched.

“Well, OK, fine, so the characters are diverse despite being typified. You still can’t bridge the gap between cinema and stage acting!”

Au contraire! You forget that critical element of improv – scene painting! It’s a heavy and, in this case, a critical show component. We already know what will happen at the end of our “movie” – the audience sticks around for the journey to that conclusion. Performers primarily conduct scene painting through a series of different “camera angles,” wherein they call out cinematic direction you’d normally only read in a script. These camera angles double as edits and is what give the audience a cinematic effect, if an imaginary one. Cast members are given close-ups, split-screens, and even aerial shots that they have to make work and incorporate seamlessly into the ongoing scene. Half of the fun lies in players giving each other impossible views to pull off. (Have you ever seen a dead man fly in circles around two women standing horizontally? Well, I did! You might see it, too, if you buy a ticket). It’s a brain and body workout, to be sure, not to mention the lighting and sound tricks that the techs execute on the fly. (Props to Raye Maddox - you done good, kiddo.)

Boy. What a ride. In short, this show is a keeper. It’s one of those shows at DCH that’s a must see. You won’t get spooked, but you’ll certainly laugh, and any student or fan of improv will also get a great lesson by simply watching the cast. Oh, before I forget – that cast includes David Allison, Amanda Austin, Sallie Bowen, Noa Gavin, Jason Hackett, Tabitha Parker, Ben Pfeiffer, Maggie Rieth Austin, and Nick Scott. The whole shebang is tech'ed by Jua Holt (Raye Maddox was the technical director for the show I saw). They all deserve a big ol’ basket of treats minus tricks, allergens, and razors. For tickets, please visit www.dallascomedyhouse.com.

Emily Baudot is a DCH graduate and sketch student. When she isn’t at the theater, she’s drinking at one of the bars down the street and trying to justify ordering dessert for dinner.  Or, she’s on her computer pretending she’s a banished orc maiden, whichever one sounds healthier to you. If her crippling addiction to sugar and caffeine doesn’t kill her, she can be seen on stage with the soon to be world famous Wild Strawberry and the already-Internet famous Wiki-Tikki-Tabby (just kidding, they do go online a lot though). She’s also a Pisces because that means something.

Congratulations DCH Class of June 2016

Oh my wow! I can’t believe we’re finally here. We’re graduating guys. We’re graduating from THE world famous Dallas Comedy House (DCH)! Saying that still feels so surreal to me. I keep pinching myself to try and wake up from what has felt like the most fantastic and exhilarating dream, well a dream minus flying cats and an encounter with a shirtless Chris Pratt because at times I think there’s no way this has all been real. But, I’m not dreaming, I’ve indeed reached the end of the whirlwind journey that has been my improv education at DCH. Jimmy Fallon

If you would have told me a year ago that I’d not only be taking improv classes but also come to be part of some amazing troupes, performing in front of actual people, I’d have said, “Shut yo mouth fool, you’ve lost your damn mind!” Or more likely, I would've have stared at you with a skeptical look and quietly thought that in my head. At that time, I was incredibly shy and anxious (plagued by horrible stage fright), and I wanted nothing more than to simply be a writer who could fade into the background of life, content with letting anyone else read my words and soak up the limelight.

But as I sit here, in front of my computer screen today, trying to wrack my brain with what exactly to say to all you fellow DCH graduates, I know that I’m not that same scared person I was when I started this whole improv thing. I’ve come a long way. My once frozen feet have begun to thaw out and my feelings of dread and panic when facing an audience have started to substantially fade away. Hell, I’m now part of two sketch comedy productions, I’m performing with my Big Stupid Fun crew, and I’m continually adding new delicious and exciting items to my ever-growing comedy plate.

I never expected any of that to happen, though. The thing is, when you embark upon a new endeavor nobody has an idea what’s going to happen next. NOBODY. None of us. Not even Neil deGrasse Tyson who is a literal genius and knows the complete inner workings of the universe, dark matter, and why waffles are so insanely delicious. Therefore, all anyone can do in these situations is go in with a positive mindset, hope for the best, and see where the journey takes you. Ugh, that sounds so cheesy, but it’s true.

Along the way, however, you accumulate knowledge and new skills (or arrows for your improv quiver as Kam De Haan would phrase it) and you start to realize the things that matter most to you, that helped you reach your end goal, that inspire you to keep moving long after you’ve crossed that finish line. So, I thought I’d take this time to share the three concepts, or pieces of pseudo-wisdom, that have come to matter most to me as an improviser and human being.

You’ve probably heard people telling you time and time again to “do what you love” or “follow your passions,” but that’s crappy half-advice and rather cliché, so I’m not going to do that to you fine readers and fellow graduates. Maya Angelou—poet, civil rights activist, and overall kween—once wrote, “Pursue the things you love doing, and then do them so well that people can’t take their eyes off you.” It’s fair to say that this may be better advice than simply, “Follow your passions, young Padawan, the future is yours.”

What Angelou’s quote suggests is that rather than “follow” your passion, take the time to “cultivate” your passion. Once you know what you’re passionate about it’s time to hone it, to water it, to nurture it, and to spend time learning as much as you possibly can about every facet of your craft. Whereas “following” implies something that results in an end, “cultivating” is a lifelong process. When cultivating plants, for instance, you don’t stop watering them or tilling the soil when you get a single bud. Nope, you just keep on watering and tilling, watering and tilling, even after the bud has blossomed, so over time, the whole garden can continue to flourish. In writing as in gardening, one dedicates a great deal to cultivation.

From a young age, I discovered my passion for writing. I was the weirdo elementary kid, constantly lost in a daydream, who carried a journal around and filled it with silly stories and whatever ridiculous other things popped into my head. On paper, I felt freest to express myself and I knew that whatever I did in life, I wanted it to involve writing in some form or another. I wanted to write and I wanted to make people laugh, simple as that.

I spent most of my time in graduate school studying the craft of storytelling and journalism, trying to wrap my mind around proper narrative structure and the use of figurative language and what it meant to expose universal truths through prose. All of those things are great to discover, I suppose, but as someone who was more interested in entertaining readers and writing funny things (praying desperately to have a Freaky Friday experience with Dave Barry or David Sedaris or Tina Fey or Jon Stewart my comedic literary gurus), I still felt incomplete as a writer. There was so much more out there to learn.

That’s when I started searching for sketch writing classes via the Internet and I came across DCH. I was so excited. Then my excitement turned into panic because I discovered that I had to take improv before I could set foot in the writer’s room. A terrifying prospect for a performance anxiety suffering individual. Initially, I scoffed at the idea of taking improv, thinking, “How could that possibly help my writing? These people don’t know what they’re talking about. This is just cray cray.” They weren’t cray cray, though. I was cray cray for thinking that they were cray cray.

Ten months and five levels of improv later, I’m still an incomplete writer, but an incomplete writer who has a new set of skills and new friends and new ways of thinking about storytelling. Improv not only significantly helped my confidence and allowed me to expand my creativity, but it’s also opened whole new doors of comedy wisdom and comedic approaches to writing. These are new doors that I will continue to open and voraciously consume all that’s behind in order to keep cultivating my passion.

But you see, a strange thing happens when you’re out, busy cultivating. You start to find yourself surrounded by an amazing group of individuals who share your passions and want to see you succeed in all your undertakings. These are the people who celebrate your distinct weirdness and want to learn from you as much as you do from them. The art and literary world call this wonderful phenomenon “finding your tribe,” which happens to be my second point.

In its simplest form a tribe consists of two parts: Tribal elders, those who hold and pass down their knowledge from years of experience, and the tribal juniors, those who learn from the tribal elders and bring with them fresh, innovative ideas to the tribal community. Eventually, the tribal juniors will learn and experience enough to become elders themselves, making room in the tribe for new members, resulting in a magnificent and cyclical process that inspires creativity and interconnectedness.   

DCH is a wonderful tribe, with elders and juniors constantly swapping knowledge and ideas. I am so very lucky to have found and now consider myself a part of that tribe. There’s never been a place where I’ve felt as unconditionally loved and accepted, and for that I can’t even find the right words to express the amount of gratitude I feel. It’s rare to find a tribe quite like the one at DCH, so I urge my fellow graduates and tribe-mates to cherish it, continue fueling it with positivity and encouragement, and remember that no matter how far you drift away from it your tribe will always be there with open arms to welcome you back.

I once read a Tumblr blog post that said, “You can’t do epic shit with basic people,” and that is so true. No one in this DCH tribe is basic. You’re all incredibly complex and passionate and wacky (shout out to the wackiest of them all, Danielle Seright) individuals who inspire and amaze me with your talents. Continue doing epic shit. Remember me when you’re famous.

Because the DCH tribe is so awesome and may become your home away from home, it’s also very easy to get sucked into spending all your time cultivating and dealing with tribal affairs, which isn’t a bad thing per se. But it’s important to remember that it’s also perfectly fine, even recommended, that you step back from the tribe every once in a while. Take a break and live your life. That’s my final piece of “wisdom,” fellow graduates.

Go out and do stuff. Ride a roller coaster, go bungee jumping, tell someone you love them, run butt naked through the street, climb a mountain, save a neighborhood from foreclosure by going on an adventure to find the hidden treasure of a one-eyed pirate (which coincidentally is also the plot to Goonies), whatever you do just do something. Live your life and experience amazing things...then come back to the tribe and tell us all about it so we can live vicariously through you.

That stuff that you experience away from the tribe is going to fuel your creativity even more and foster new ideas when you return. The more you go out and experience life, the better improviser, the better writer, and the better-rounded you you will become. In the words of the ever wise Rihanna, “Just live your life! Ay ay ay. No tellin’ where it'll take ya, just live your life.”

As I near the conclusion of this commencement post, I feel that the only thing left to do is thank the members of the tribe who helped get me to the end (of my improv journey, not the post, otherwise I’d be thanking caffeine and the free Wi-Fi at Starbucks). Truman Capote wrote that “anyone who gave you confidence you owe them a lot,” so with that said, I have a lot of thanking to do.

First, I have to thank all the teachers, TAs, and coaches who I’ve had the pleasure of learning from.

Sarah and Brent, thank you both for having the patience and kindness to get me through Level 1 improv and for not letting me run out the door on my first day. Because of you guys, I came back for more. Ashley and Scriven, both of you continue to inspire me, and I learned so so much from you two. Thank you for watering my seeds of excitement and showing me that even a quiet, gentle voice can make a loud impact in the right situation. Mike and Stephanie, thank you two for always coming to class ready to have fun and for teaching me what exactly a “Ewing” is. Without that knowledge, I would be nowhere.

Tommy and Jennifer, we cried together, we laughed together, and we certainly grew together. I think this was the level that I truly saw strides in my performing ability, and I thank you both for always being supportive and giving me the courage and push that I needed to come out and play more. Kyle and Allie, you are both so incredibly passionate about what you do and I think that’s a beautiful thing; don’t ever lose that spark. Thank you two for pushing me to make smarter improv choices and giving me a good dose of tough love at a time when I definitely needed it. I feel stronger and more confident than ever!

Amada Austin, thank you for seeing something in me and taking a chance by putting me on a Ewing team. I am eternally grateful for that experience and couldn’t have asked for a more wonderful group of humans to play with and call my improv fam. Maggie, my Big Stupid Fun coach, we’ve had a lot of big stupid fun moments together. So many good laughs. Thank you for showing all of us the power of laughter and positivity. Each practice, I’m energized and comforted by the positive energy you bring.  You are a gem, and I’m lucky I get to be coached by such a badass and supportive lady.

Second, I have to thank Chad Haught. C-Haught. C-Dog. The Chadster...wait, scratch that last one. No one should ever call you The Chadster, that just feels too weird. Chad, you answered my frantic email before I ever signed up for classes at DCH. I was worried about being surrounded by stuffy thespians and not having enough performing experience, but you put my mind at ease. You also laughed at what I wrote. Because of your kindness and your laughter, I signed up for Level 1. Without you, this blog post wouldn’t even exist right now.

Last but certainly not least, I especially want to thank all the homies I’ve gotten to play with since day one, fellow graduates or not. Whether you’re a Brew Ha-Ha-er, a Nood and Dump (reheated or original), or part of my Big Stupid Fun fam, I LOVE you all dearly! I would do just about anything for you. I probably wouldn’t kill for you, but if you needed someone to help you hide a body or play lookout while you’re up to nefarious activities, hit me up. I learned just as much from you guys, as I did from any teacher or coach. Thank you all for just bein your bad selves. *Virtual hugs for all of you!*

Alright, I’ll wrap it up. I can hear the orchestra warming up to play, which is the universal cue to step down from a soap box.

So fellow DCH graduates, again, may you continue to cultivate your passions, learn and grow with your tribe, and keep on experiencing life. Congratulations to all you guys, the DCH Class of June 2016.

We did it!

Legally Blonde

Lauren Levine is currently a Level 5 improv and Sketch 2 student at DCH. When she is not trying to come up with witty things for this blog, she is a freelance writer and editor, an amateur photographer, a Zumba-enthusiast, a dog lover, and an 80s movie nerd. In addition, she enjoys all things Muppet-related, the smell after a rainstorm, and people with soft hands.

Forced To Have Fun - A Robot's Tale

I was in a cat fur party scene in a show recently.  I was a cat playing with another cat among other various animal couples on stage.

The only person left on the sidelines walked on and said it was time for the dancing portion of the convention. And then all nine people in the troupe instantly knew to break into the choreographed dance we had performed before our actual improv show – in honor of our namesake St. Patrick’s Day – but this time, we danced it as our animal characters.

I’ve never been more on an improv-love-insanity high than after that show, and that night I shot off an email (subject line: Thank you for putting me on this Ewing Team!!!) to Chad Haught, Dallas Comedy House's (DCH) training director and one of the Ewing judges who cast me in the student troupe.

I gleefully signed off my thank you note with, “I don't get when weird works and when it doesn't, but who cares! I get to do it!!! Thank you, sir!!!!”

Clover Dance Pic

I've been doing improv for a year and a half. I've spent the majority of that time questioning everything and trying to Figure. Out. Improv. In Billy Merritt's pirate-robot-ninja categorization of improvisers (explanation one and explanation two), I'm obviously a robot. I don't do anything on stage that hasn't been fact-checked, full-body scanned, and FDA cleared by my robot brain…and because of my inexperience, lack of imagination, and slow processing system, that typically means I don’t do much during improv runs.

Clover

And then I made Clover, one of the two DCH student house teams for the March/April term. Where I get to learn how to have fun. Where I get to play with crazy, hilarious people. Where I get to be coached by someone who says, "Weird is always good" and stresses the importance of having fun on stage and supporting the heck out of each other.

Once during notes, upon my flabbergasted response to my coach’s heightening example that nearly short-circuited my robot brain, she also had to remind me, “Christy, you can do anything. It’s improv.”

I cannot tell you how thankful I am for making Clover. My default setting has me standing back and watching and not being weird. Clover stretches and pushes me and puts me out of my comfort zone because I am forced to have fun and be in crazy scenarios due to moves made by my troupe mates that I would never think to make myself as Improviser Christy 1.0.

This band of merry cats masquerading as a Ewing team is exactly what I needed at this juncture of my improv journey. Learning the crunchy improv rules and logical moves is really easy to seek out; learning how to have fun is something else entirely. The more I’m encased in my troupe’s style, the more my deeply-ingrained firewall defenses of “here’s how to think and act” break down and the more I’ll grow as an improviser.

Clover Group Pic Before Show

One part of the equation to having fun is a team’s intangibles. A group either has chemistry or it doesn’t. Clover obviously does, and I love my troupe’s energy that makes us uniquely us. The warm-ups alone are one of the highlights of my week. I can’t tell you what goes on because writing it out in print would only make crass the specialness that happens in those five-to-15 minutes of highly-supportive, anything-goes, unjudged wackiness…that will probably involve us behaving as felines at some point during it. Because obviously.

And so I want to thank a) my troupe mates for being their wonderful kitty selves and possessing whatever it is they have within that contributes to our team’s chemistry, b) our coach Amanda Austin for nurturing the group’s fun and weirdness, and c) the Ewing audition judges for not only putting this specific group of people together but also for giving me the opportunity to play with, learn from, and be associated with this particular bunch of crazy, hilarious fur balls. My robot brain can’t think of a better improv gift and training tool I could have received as a budding improviser than being cast into Clover.

I still don’t do much during improv runs, but believe you me my improvising system is being updated constantly. Look out for the release of Improviser Christy 2.0 coming soon!

Clover Group Bow

Christy Vutam is a graduate of the Dallas Comedy House program. One of her life’s ambitions is to conquer improv. She can often be seen on Friday and Saturday nights in the front row, middle-most seat in Tharp Theater with a notepad, pen, and blankie.

Get Ready to Share Your Most Mortifying Experiences

Mortified San Francisco at the DNA Lounge Sharing her weirdest adolescent secrets on stage in front of strangers turned out to be one of the most fun experiences Katie Moore ever had.

"It was heartwarming, cathartic, and hilarious," said Moore, who grew up in Plano and now lives in Austin, Texas.

The show Moore spoke of is Mortified Live, which is now opening a chapter in Dallas. Specifically, at the Dallas Comedy House. Even more specifically, the first shows will be Feb. 12-13, 2016. And to get deeper into the specifics, casting is starting soon, like on October 3rd soon.

"I'm thrilled Mortified has chosen Dallas Comedy House as its home," said Amanda Austin, owner of the world-famous venue. "We're continually working to offer a variety of unique and progressive comedy shows and Mortified fits that bill perfectly. It's a great concept with a loyal following, and I'm really excited to see it take off."

Mortified - Circle LogoMortified Live is celebrating its 14th year and has been featured on This American Life, All Things Considered, The Today Show, and more. If you've never experienced a live show, you can listen to its weekly podcast or watch the film, Mortified Nation.

"Being a part of Mortified changed my life. It doesn't matter if you were the football jock, drama queen, or band geek, we all can relate to the mortifying stories of you trying miserably to fumble your way through your feelings as a teen," said Anne Jensen-Smith, producer for the show. "Those feelings are universal, and their cringe-worthy stories are hilarious. This will be my ninth year producing Mortified, and I couldn't be happier to bring it to Dallas!

The Dallas chapter of Mortified Live will produce shows every three months for the first year and feature six-to-seven performers during each event.

Now is the time to dig out your most embarrassing teenage writings (e.g., diaries, poems, lyrics, fiction) and artwork and request to participate in the upcoming Dallas date.

"Mortified celebrates the fact that we all survived the most awkward years of our lives," Moore said. "It's universal - everyone can relate to something in the show."

Mortified

(Top image: Todd Hartman. Bottom image: Ashley West Leonard)

Troupe Talk: Local Honey

Local Honey At Dallas Comedy House (DCH), we encourage our community to “Laugh Local." Something else we encourage is that, since you’re laughing local, you should probably laugh local at the lovely ladies of Local Honey. And something I personally encourage? Conducting interviews with said lovely ladies of Local Honey while they happen to be at a bachelorette party (and may or may not have just enjoyed an adult beverage). #bestinterviewofmylife

Ladies and gentlemen, the delightfully wonderful, Local Honey.

Name three Dallas local things that you love:

Christie: 1. Dallas Comedy House 2. Uncle Uber's 3. Tommy Lee Brown

Amanda: I like food. So I always like our local food. Also, our local chain restaurants. It's also fun to say, "Oh you don't have that in your city? Must only be in Dallas." Do I sound snobby? I hope so. Because I'm the least snobby about food. Except Doritos.

Nikki: 1.) The Perot 2.) Emporium Pies 3.) Dallas Comedy House

Describe the style of Local Honey's comedy.

Christie: It's an honest, in-depth look at female stereotypes and characters. Amanda: Fast and loose and chill and slow. We are predictably unpredictable. We also bring a lot of honesty to our shows. I like that a lot. Nikki: Our style is simple, we try to put on a universally funny show and we want to have a good time while doing it. There aren’t any gimmicks or theatrics, we just want to make people belly laugh when they watch our show.

What's your favorite thing about performing with these ladies?

Christie: We are all honestly best friends. That makes it so much easier. Amanda: How much we genuinely enjoy each other on and off stage. Regardless of what happens in a show, I know anyone who watches us would agree we have naturally good chemistry with each other. Also, we try to be cognizant of what's going on in the show and who is playing straight and who is playing absurd that night. And we support the fuck out of that. We all have our moments, and we're good at recognizing that with each other. I guess you'd call it women's intuition. Nikki: I love how we warm up. We sit around and complain about our ailments and kvetch about our lives. I, in particular, always have something wrong with me, and Christie and Amanda let me tell them all the gross details. It’s a safe place where we can let it all hang out and we never judge each other.

Most memorable Local Honey show?

Christie: When Nikki did a complete ribbon wand dance to "Fancy," sung by Amanda, acapella. Amanda: Oh gosh. I have the worst show memory. I usually say the last one. But I did really enjoy our last one. Everyone had such absurd moments. But I think the most memorable was the festival a few years ago. We were stuck in some alternate universe Underground Railroad (for soccer moms, or something, I don't know...my memory!) and it was just super fun. It's also after that show we realized Christie should be our third. Nikki: Honestly, there are so many, but I think our most memorable show was at the 2013 Dallas Comedy Festival. We did a scene where we were in an Underground Railroad for PTA refugees and it had all of the elements that make a funny, strange, memorable scene. We were working together in the scene as the characters and were working together as improvisors. It was a cool meld of reality and fantasy. I don’t think I will ever forget that show.

Last time you laughed really, really hard:

Christie: About 15 minutes ago. I was stuck in the middle of Lake Dallas on a one-person paddle board. I was drunk and so was everyone else around me. None of us could paddle back in to the dock. So we just hung out there until we stopped laughing. Amanda: With those girls? At every show. I'm super fortunate I get to play with two people better than me and that they put up with all my B.S. Nikki: The last time I laughed was this morning. I laugh a lot. Ask my improv students. :)

Name something that is definitely better with honey:

Christie: Comedy. And Brie cheese. Amanda: My dog, Honey. When I feed her honey, she's super chill. Nikki: I love putting honey on fried chicken. Great. Now I want to eat fried chicken.

Local Honey performs at the Dallas Comedy House on August 22.

Tori Oman is a Level Five student at DCH. She’s trained and performed with the Second City and iO in L.A. and Chicago. Favorite pastimes include being irrationally competitive at Monopoly, eating an apple in every country she’s traveled to, and being the sole person on this planet that thinks Necco Wafers are a delicious candy choice.

Troupe Talk: Law & Order: The SVUsical

Law and Order "In the Criminal Justice System, the people are represented by two separate, yet equally important groups. The police who investigate crime and the District Attorneys who prosecute the offenders. These are their stories."

….those are the opening lines for Law and Order SVU (you know, the TV show).

"At the Dallas Comedy House, the Criminal Justice System is represented by seven separate, yet equally funny people. The Amanda who directs the crime and the comedians who prosecute the audience and make them laugh. These are their stories."

….those are the opening lines (that I just made up because I can, because I blog and stuff) for Law & Order: The SVUsical (you know, the MUSICAL. The musical that you would be a dummy for not catching THIS FRIDAY--and running every Friday and Saturday through August 29 [except Aug. 14-15]--at Dallas Comedy House).

What was the inspiration for writing Law and Order: The SVUsical?

Grant: It was originally pitched by Lauren Davis for an assignment in our Leve 3 sketch class. The assignment was to pair up two things that don't usually go together. She came in with Law and Order: The Musical. After writing and performing a 10-minute version of it, we decided that we needed to elaborate on the idea and make it a full-length show. Susie: What Grant said. Christian: Lauren pitched L&O: The Musical for our sketch 3 show back in April, and we loved it. We did a compressed version in our sketch show and when we were through with that we all said, "Let's make this a real thing!" Now three months later, here we are. Paulos: In our last sketch revue, Fraud City, Lauren Davis wrote a sketch called Law and Order the Musical. It was a big hit, everyone enjoyed it and still brought it up. We knew before we ended that run in March that we were going to do a full-length version. Sean: We really wanted to do a buddy-cop show in the vein of Turner and Hooch, so we came up with the idea to write a musical about Mr. Law and his dog Order. Lauren: Law and Order: The Musical was a sketch I wrote for our sketch 3 class. Amanda: It was a pitch from Level 3. I asked them to pitch two pop culture paradigms that don't normally co-exist. Lauren pitched Law and Order the Musical. It almost didn't make the cut, but it did. They had so much fun with it during the sketch 3 review, Fraud City, we decided to make it a full length musical.

Tell us about the writing process.

Grant: We watched musicals and episodes of Law and Order while writing down patterns that we noticed so that we could exploit them in our musical. After getting a list of characters and beats we knew we wanted to hit, we assigned scenes to everybody and met up the next week to pitch. I remember the first week that we all showed up with songs, and each one was so funny. Once enough songs were written, we just had to write the scenes to connect all of them. We still haven't stopped writing. People add lines here and there every time we run through the script. It's making for a show that is very dense with jokes. Christian: The writing process was much different for this than with sketch. We had to do a lot more conforming to a central story with this, so it took more time to craft that. We had a general story that we outlined our first meeting and then we all took it and kind of ran with it. Paulos: Writing with this group has always been the most frustrating...so much fun and but sometimes frustrating. It's cool, everyone is super talented, and most of the times we were just doing bits and laughing for hours. As far as the script and songs, it was very collaborative. We all edited or punched up everything. Sean: Everyone in this group is a strong writer, and we all trust each other to create great content. At the start of the process, we'd piece apart the different things we needed to write and assign them to different people, and then we'd bring them back to the group and help punch up each other's stuff. This is a group that really fires on all cylinders when it's working together, and we're most in our element when we're creating things with each other. Susie: There's a lot more pressure when writing for a group vs. writing for yourself. Write, edit, write, edit...edit, edit, edit. In fact, I think we kept writing and editing up until last week. Lauren: Like the painting of the Golden Gate Bridge, it is apparently never ending. Amanda: I think it's still going on...

Let's go behind the scenes. What did a typical rehearsal look like?

Grant: We'd all be outside on the stoop in our jean jackets. Drinking 40s and smoking drugs. Amanda would walk up and as she would unlock the door, we'd throw paper airplanes at her back and high-five each other for making such good paper airplanes. She'd shake her head and know that deep down, we did it out of love. After taking a couple hours to sober up, we'd go over notes from the previous week and run any scenes that had recent changes or trouble areas. Then a full run through with costumes and props, followed by more notes. After cleaning up, we'd go back to the stoop out front and pick up where we left off with our drugs and alcohols. Christian: Rehearsals changed over time as the musical came together. First is was just us trying to block the thing, then trying to remember lines and blocking, and now it's kind of honing and refining everything so it looks good for the show. Paulos: We had some pretty intense rehearsals. Typically groups meet up three hours a week. There were times were meeting up six hours two or three times a week. We're all very committed and also need your approval so we wanted to make something really special. Sean: Early on, it was just all of us sitting around a table coming up with great "what-if" ideas. I'm pretty sure there's about three great sketch shows' worth of content that got left on the cutting room floor. As the songs and scenes got finalized, we started rehearsing on the stage, blocking out the acts, and singing the songs with music. Susie: Six-to-10 hours of nonstop fun! We laugh and joke around a lot. Bits, bits, more bits, and then Amanda steps in and gets us to rehearse. Lauren: Depends on the day. Sometimes we focused on choreography, sometimes running transitions, writing songs, etc. Amanda: The first two months were writing sessions. Super fun. These bozos are really smart. Then we started blocking it in June, and in July we went to twice weekly practices then upped the game to three times a week. We had several rehearsals that were seven-hours long. They were productive, just long. There's a lot to consider with blocking/transitions/choreography/music/props when it comes to a musical, on top of memorizing the content and songs. Honestly, I've seen a lot of drama in theater in the past, but this group was so committed to making this show really fun for the audience, so any time there was tension, we nipped it in the bud pretty quickly. Usually with queso. Or beer. Or hugs.

Favorite memory of the production process?

Grant: Going out to take pictures for our posters was a lot of fun. Getting to see everyone in costume for the first time on top of a high-rise in Dallas. That's not a bad way to spend an evening with your friends. Christian: My favorite part of the whole process was pitching songs at the beginning. I had never written a song for a musical before, so it was a ton of fun writing out the lyrics and performing them in front of everyone at our writers meeting. Paulos: There are a lot to choose from. We've practically lived together for a couple of months writing this. Listening to the songs for the first time was so much fun, and I cried laughing a lot. One night recently, however, we had a pretty long rehearsal and everyone was beat up and tired and we had a group message going where everyone got home and got really excited at like 2 a.m. It was a cool thing, because we were tired but still so much more excited than tired. Sean: Oh, there's so many. One that comes to mind happened a couple of weeks ago. I had been out of town for a week, so I missed some rehearsal time. I came back, and at the next practice, during the run, the whole group did this super intense elaborate choreography that didn't exist before I left...I won't spoil anything, but I was dying. So that was pretty funny. Also, anytime Lauren's giggle box breaks. It's so fun to have someone who takes the show super seriously laughing uncontrollably because of a poop joke. Susie: My memory is shot from all the drinking and rehearsing. I wish we made a documentary of this: "Making of Law & Order: the SVUsical" (because I'm not creative with titles, apparently). We've been in over our heads since day one, but Amanda has always been there to guide us and pick up the pieces. Through the power of friendship, you can do anything! Lauren: Either hearing most of the songs for the first time or the time Amanda ordered us free pizza. Amanda: Honestly, and please don't tell them this, I'm sad I won't be spending all of my Sundays (and Mondays and Wednesdays and Saturdays with these boners). They're all so fun. I love them all equally in different ways. They're really smart, and I love being part of a project where everyone is just so dedicated to putting up good work. The amount of time they've put into this show is kind of unbelievable. I can't wait for it to open and everyone see all of their hard work. It's been an honor to direct them.

Law & Order: The SVUsical runs every Friday and Saturday through August 29 (except Aug. 14-15). 

Tori Oman is a Level Five student at DCH. She’s trained and performed with the Second City and iO in L.A. and Chicago. Favorite pastimes include being irrationally competitive at Monopoly, eating an apple in every country she’s traveled to, and being the sole person on this planet that thinks Necco Wafers are a delicious candy choice.